There are at least 12 reasons why shared E-scooters are so dangerous. 5 of them involve the poor designs used by E-scooter sharing companies like Lime and Bird. Others revolve around how difficult E-scooters are to ride and how little instruction riders get. Still others center on the lack of safety precautions E-scooter sharing companies have taken.
Poor design features make shared E-scooters dangerous
1. The hidden fender brake on the back tire
Some, but not all, shared E-scooters come equipped with an emergency brake. It is located on the back wheel. However, to the untrained eye, it looks like a plastic covering for the back tire. Few people know that you can step back onto the plastic covering to push it into the wheel.
When going down a hill, this hidden fender brake can be the only way to slow down.2
People who do not know about this hidden brake will not be able to use it when they need to. They can also accidentally trigger it, potentially causing an accident.
2. Only consumer quality parts are used
Many of the E-scooters on the road are consumer models. These consumer models are not made of materials that are designed to withstand constant use. Instead, they were made for single owners who only rode it a few times a day, at most. Consumer parts, especially those that are made of cheap plastic, deteriorate under the stress of constant use.
3. Weak headlights
E-scooters are not supposed to be on the roads at night. However, they are still often being ridden as the sun sets. The weak headlights that adorn many E-scooter models are not enough for anything but the bright daylight. Riders are left to squint at the road ahead. Other drivers can miss oncoming E-scooters because of the weak headlights.
4. E-scooters have a high center of gravity
E-scooters are meant to be stood on, during the ride. As a result, the center of gravity for E-scooter riders is very far from the ground. The spacing of the wheels is not wide enough to provide stability for a center of gravity that far away. Tipping over or losing control becomes very easy to do.
5. The small and solid wheels
The wheels on shared E-scooters are small – 9 inches or less on most models. They are also solid, rather than filled with air. This design was to reduce maintenance costs. However, the solid wheels do not absorb shock very well. They also do not have as much traction as an air-filled tire. They are also much less able to roll up small steps in the road, like the cracks between sidewalk blocks or up the bump between the sidewalk and the street. This can cause you to lose control and get in an accident.
Things that make riding a shared E-scooter surprisingly difficult
E-scooters are also dangerous because they are not easy to ride safely. E-scooter sharing companies could have made them easier to ride. However, they failed to do this, putting riders and other innocent people in danger.
6. There is no rider training period
Anyone with a smartphone can download an app and unlock and ride an E-scooter. There is no training session or even an instructional video. Riders have to pay for their first ride, too, so they do not want to waste their money getting accustomed to the way it rides.
It should come as no surprise that one study found that one-third of riders who got hurt were in the middle of their very first ride.3
7. Most riders do not know traffic laws for E-scooters
Different states and even different cities have their own rules for where you can ride an E-scooter. Some require you to ride on the sidewalk. Others forbid it.
Few riders know the rules of the road for where they are. E-scooter sharing companies could provide a database of E-scooter rules and regulations, but they do not.
8. At a glance, E-scooter riders look like they are walking
E-scooter riders are in a standing posture. At a glance, drivers and pedestrians rarely realize that they are riding an E-scooter. They then make decisions on the assumption that the E-scooter rider is going far slower than they really are. This can cause confusion and an accident.
Safety precautions E-scooter sharing companies could have taken, but did not
Finally, there are 4 safety precautions that E-scooter sharing companies could have taken to protect riders, but did not.
9. Warnings before triggering an automated speed reduction
In some cities, E-scooter companies have created “geo fences” where their scooters can go faster.4 Once the E-scooter crosses one of these fences, a computer program automatically slows the vehicle down.
Riders, however, are given no warning, and cannot see geo fences, which rely on GPS tracking. The sudden decrease in speed can cause a crash.4
10. Vigilance against known vandalism
Some people do not like E-scooters on the streets. A few have resorted to vandalism to make their anger heard. A couple of them have resorted to cutting the brake lines on E-scooters.5
Despite knowing about the danger, though, Lime and Bird do not regularly check their vehicles for damage. This puts riders and innocent bystanders in danger.
11. Notifying riders of damage on an E-scooter
Bird and Lime have developed E-scooters that self-report damage.6 Those reports, however, only go to the sharing company. They do not notify users of any damage or defects on the E-scooter they are about to ride.
In fact, both Bird and Lime expressly disclaim liability for damaged or defective E-scooters in their user agreement.7 They also force users to agree to conduct an extensive pre-ride safety check.8
12. Standard maintenance policies
Both Bird and Lime rely on independent contractors to collect, recharge, and report damage to their E-scooters. These independent contractors do not have a strict policy to follow. They frequently miss clear signs of abuse or damage that endangers later riders.
- See Joshua Emerson Smith, “Injured scooter riders line up to sue Bird and Lime, but ‘user agreements’ could shield companies,” The San Diego Union-Tribune (November 5, 2018). See also Man Killed After Collision on E-Scooter in Koreatown, NBC Los Angeles (March 5, 2022).
- See Madeleine Pauker, “Brake complaints accelerate for e-scooters,” Santa Monica Daily Press (February 27, 2019).
- “Dockless Electric Scooter-Related Injuries Study – Austin, Texas, September-November 2018,” Austin Public Health (April, 2019).
- See, for example, Sonja Sharp, “Did your rented e-scooter suddenly shut down? Blame the invisible geofence,” Los Angeles Times (September 17, 2019) (Los Angeles and Santa Monica), and Lynda Lopez, “Geofencing Will Stop Scooters If Users Leave the Pilot Zone,” Streetsblog Chicago (May 15, 2019) (Chicago).
- See, for example, Ben Tobin, “Several Bird and Lime scooters removed from Louisville due to vandalism,” Louisville Courier Journal (August 19, 2019) (Louisville, Kentucky), and Brian Schlonsky and Zac Self, “Vandals cut brake lines on scooters in Pacific Beach,” ABC News – San Diego (July 8, 2019) (Pacific Beach, California).
- Andrew J. Hawkins, “Bird’s new electric scooter has a better battery and anti-vandalism sensors,” The Verge (August 1, 2019).
- See Bird Rental Agreement § 15 and Lime Rental Agreement § 6.2.
- See Bird Rental Agreement § 3.1 and Lime rental Agreement § 12.1.